Discussions on the history and historiography of Australia's New England

Saturday, May 23, 2009

May Yarrowyck - an update

Back in March 2008 in Aboriginal midwife - the mystery of May Yarrowyck I wondered about the story of this Aboriginal midwife.

By the wonders of the internet, Kim found the post and left a book reference with more information. I am recording it here so that I do not lose it. The reference is:

Barbara Le Maistre with contributions from M R Hardie, Nimula, Tingha, Bullawangen : Aboriginal people and their land, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Hurstville, N.S.W. 1996.

There is a copy in Australia's National Library. Another book to read!

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Newcastle time line

I have been looking for some Newcastle time lines for a little while This one from the Awaba site has an Awabakal focus.


  • escaped convicts, William and Mary Bryant, thought to have located Glenrock Lagoon


  • Lt. John Shortland lands on the southern shore of the Hunter River


  • the Hunter sails to Bengal with the first coal exports from Newcastle


  • August: William Reid locates Lake Macquarie, sailing into the channel after mistaking it for the Hunter River
  • November: the Norfolk wrecked on Stockton Beach


  • Paterson, Grant and Barrallier explorer the lower Hunter River on the Lady Nelson, seeing "the fires of the natives and many individuals"
  • June: first settlement formed at the mouth of the Hunter River under M. Mason; abandoned February 1802
  • November: Superintendent Mason reports hostile encounters with Aborigines on the Hunter River, and the theft of two blankets by one man, thought to be under the influence of alcohol


  • March: second settlement at `King's Town' (Newcastle) formed under Charles Menzies with 34 Irish convicts implicated in the Castle Hill uprising; thereafter a "place for the reception of desperate characters" and "choice rogues"
  • May: six Aboriginal men from Newcastle taken to Sydney to meet Governor King


  • January: Governor Lachlan Macquarie inspects the Newcastle settlement


  • Benjamin Singleton marks a route a land route from Sydney to Newcastle
  • Governor Lachlan Macquarie makes the second of three tours of Newcastle; meets "Burigan, King of the Newcastle native tribe" and 40 men, women and children, who entertain with a short "Carauberee"; "I ordered them to be treated with some grog and an allowance of maize".


  • September 18: convict Henry Langton receives 75 lashes at Newcastle for "Cutting a black native with a knife"
  • November: John Howe marks a route from Windsor to the Hunter River near Jerrys Plains


  • January: Commissioner J.T. Bigge inspects the Newcastle penal settlement
  • October: death of King Burrigan of the Newcastle tribe, from injuries sustained in the recapture of the convicts James Kirby and James Thompson
  • October 28: three convicts, Robert Davis, Thomas Franklin and William Page flogged for `Inhumanely ill treating and cutting a black native and intimidating him against bringing in bushrangers'
  • December: trial and execution in Sydney of James Kirby for the murder of King Burrigan


  • John Laurio Platt receives a 2000 acre grant on the lower Hunter River near Newcastle
  • Governor Macquarie makes his second tour of Newcastle; meets Bungaree at Wallis Plains


  • November: Governor Brisbane inspects the Newcastle settlement


  • September: LMS Deputation (Reverend Daniel Tyerman and George Bennet) inspect the Hunter River


  • January 5: Sydney Gazette publishes two `Australian Aboriginal Song[s]', by Threlkeld, being the first publication of an attempt to capture the Awabakal language in writing


  • publication of Threlkeld's Specimens of a Dialect of the Aborigines of New South Wales


  • Threlkeld dismissed from the LMS


  • publication of Threlkeld's An Australian Spelling Book


  • members of the United States Exploring Expedition visit Threlkeld's Ebenezer mission


  • Threlkeld returns to Sydney and takes up the pastorate of the South Head Congregational Church (Watson's Bay, NSW), concluding 15 years of missionary work at Lake Macquarie


  • publication of Threlkeld's A Key to the Structure of the Aboriginal Language


  • death of King Bully of Newcastle


  • death of Reverend Threlkeld


  • death of Old Ned White


  • publication of Dr. John Fraser's An Australian Language


D.A. Roberts, H.M. Carey and V. Grieves, Awaba: A Database of Historical Materials Relating to the Aborigines of the Newcastle-Lake Macquarie Region, University of Newcastle, 2002

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Awabakal Entry Page

This is one of a number of entry pages established to provide a central point for posts and references dealing with specific Aboriginal language groups within New England. You can find a list of all the entry pages here.

The Awabakal occupied the territory from the southern edge of the lower Hunter River and included Lake Macquarie. Hunter Valley Aboriginal Language Groups provides a description of their territory and surrounding language groups.

New England Australia - Lake Macquarie and Tuggerah Lakes catchment map provides a map of the main catchment occupied by the Awabakal. Note that while language groups do link to catchments, the boundaries are not exact.

By far the best on-line source of the University of Newcastle's Awaba site. This contains a variety of source material on the Awabakal, with some too on surrounding groups.

Hunter Valley Aboriginal Groups

Aboriginal language map

This brief post focuses on the Aborigines of Southern New England.

If you look at this map of Aboriginal language groups you can see that a number of language groups occupied the Hunter Valley. This is unusually varied for a single area.

In the north the Worimi occupied territory extending along the northern bank of the Hunter up to near Maitland and then a broad sweep of the coast up to and including what is now Foster-Tuncurry along with adjacent hinterland following the streams up into the hills to the east.

This was rich territory because it combined hinterland with extensive coastal lands including Port Stephens and the Great Lakes.

To the east and north west were the Geawegal, often confused by Sydneysiders with the Gweagal. According to Tindale, the Geawegal occupied the northern tributaries of the Hunter River to Murrurundi; at Muswellbrook, Aberdeen, Scone, and Mount Royal Range. Tindale also suggests that they were affiliated with the Worimi. This would make sense.

Given suggestions that the Kamilaroi may have been extending into the Upper Hunter, the Geawegal would have been the affected language group. According to the Tindale data base, there are also linguistic similarities between Kamilaroi and Geawegal.

The Awabakal occupied the territory from the southern edge of the lower Hunter River and included Lake Macquarie. They therefore occupy the most southern catchment recommended by Justice Nicholson for inclusion in New England.

The Wonnarua were neighbours of the Geawegal and occupied territory inland from the Awabakal covering part of the mid-Hunter valley including Muswellbrook.

The Darkinung (also Tindale's Darkinjang) were primarily a non-New England tribe. However, the map suggests that their territory did actually extend into the Hunter to some degree, including Cessnock.

On the west, the territory of the Dakinung, Wonnarua and, to a small degree, the Geawegal all adjoined the Wiradjuri, one of the largest tribal group in Australia whose territory extended west and south over a large part of what is NSW.

Obviously any map of this type has great uncertainties. However, linked to the underlying geography, the picture painted is not an unreasonable one.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Chinese in New England 1848-1853

The abolition of transportation in 1840 caused severe labour shortages in New England. This led squatters in the Inverell district to sign a petition in 1842 calling for the introduction of coolies and other Indian labourers[i]. This petition was refused. However, the arrival of Chinese workers provided a part solution[ii]

The earliest known Chinese immigrant to arrive in New South Wales was Mak Sai Ying. Born in Guangzho (Canton) in 1798, he arrived as a free settler in 1818 and purchased land at Parramatta. Initial numbers were small, with just 18 identified Chinese settlers prior to 1848. Numbers then increased quickly as British and Chinese agents responded to labour shortages by shipping out boatloads of indentured or contract labourers from China. In December 1848, for example, the Nimrod arrived in Moreton Bay with about seventy Chinese on board[iii]. One settler immediately hired sixteen.

Maxine Darnell notes that nearly 3,000 indentured Chinese labourers were imported into the colony during the period 1847-53[iv] Most of these were from the densely populated southern provinces of Guangdong (Kwangtung) and Fujian (Fukien) where conditions were difficult and a significant rise in population had put pressure on available resources.

As part of her work, Darnell compiled a table of known Chinese workers that in conjunction with her footnotes provides interesting insights into early Chinese arrivals.

At least two Chinese workers entered into services of J Pike of Pikedale run in The Granite Belt in September 1849. In May 1850, M H Marsh employed ten Chinese workers from Amoy at Maryland in the Granite Belt, all of whom arrived on the Cadet. By the end of 1852, Chinese workers were widely if thinly dispersed across New England.

The Chinese workers were paid less than their European equivalents.[v] In 1850, Chas and M H Marsh signed a contract with one Chinese worker under which he agreed to work as a shepherd, farm and general labourer for five years[vi]. The new worker was to receive three Spanish dollars (about 12/-) per month, with a weekly ration of 8lb flour or 10lb rice, 9lb meat and 2 oz of tea.

In his short biography of M H Marsh, Eric Dunlop suggests that Marsh was a believer in cheap labour[vii], noting that in 1852 he imported Chinese shepherds from Amoy for whom he paid £7 4s. a year. There is a little more to it than that.

While Chinese workers were paid less, their employers had also to meet transport costs. In the case of the Chinese arriving on the Nimrod, the settler hiring sixteen records that he had to pay freight of £8.15.0 each. Another settler purchased two from the Nimrod for a little more, a total of £21.4.0[viii]. These costs had to be set against lower wages.

There were also management issues. Dunlop records that Marsh found English immigrants discontented and troublesome'[ix]. Marsh was conscious of his position and could display a harsh temper. In evidence before Justice Burton in December 1841, it appears that Marsh beat the son of an employee till he was black and blue because he had taken two dogs out that had been worrying the rams despite a previous warning.[x]. However, it does seem clear that Chinese workers were likely to be easier to manage than locals. There was also in Marsh’s case. an apparently comfortable sense of doing good. Writing of the Chinese workers in 1850 he said they would be rescued from the thraldom of a gloomy and degrading superstition …. exchanging it for the glorious and beneficient principles of Christianity[xi].

Relations between the Chinese workers and their new employers were not always easy. In March 1854, two Chinese workers were sentenced to three months’ imprisonment following official complaints by Inverell squatter Alexander Campbell (Inverell Station). Campbell complained that Suchang and Kouhan: had refused to work. The two men made use of bad language. They have been sometimes past impertinent and disobedient and at times very riotous[xii].

This type of case recurs in Darnell’s table and supporting footnotes. From them we get a picture of some of the difficulties and challenges facing the Chinese, as well as those who dealt with them.

While the European settlers who sailed for Australia knew they were going to an alien land, they at least spoke English and were within a system that might be harsh but at least was understood. The Chinese workers spoke limited or no English and were going to a completely alien land. With time, there was no doubt feedback to home villages, but the colony of New South Wales remained alien.

The problems faced by the Chinese were compounded by the fact that the Chinese workers came from different areas and spoke different dialects. The Chinese workers going to M H Marsh’s Maryland run were all from Amoy and presumably spoke the Amoy dialect, Hokkien as it is better known today. This meant that they could talk to each other. This was not always the case.

Apart from the difficulties of day to day communications, inability to speak the English language or to find an interpreter created major difficulties in the event of a dispute or crime. The Chinese were not always as helpless as it may seem.

It seems quite clear from the evidence collected by Darnell that courts and the broader community were aware of the language problem. Here it’s not just the self evident – the difficulty in obtaining interpreters that led to complaints about justice – but also the apparent attempts to compensate. Employers might win, but this could not be guaranteed.

As the Chinese gained experience with Australian conditions, I suspect that their capacity to manage the system improved. In the case of the 1852 case of Athong v Alexander Campbell, Athong employed an Armidale solicitor[xiii]. Athong seems to have lost the case, but he did have representation.

Life could be dangerous. In May 1852, the Phoenix sank on its way to the Clarence River with 12 Chinese on board[xiv]. A thirteenth was found wandering the beach with the Aborigines. He was reportedly quite mad, although no-one knew how he had got there.

Madness in isolation was an issue, as was suicide. There was also sometimes violence between Chinese and between Chinese and other groups. There is no evidence that I know of to suggest that this was worse than that which happened in the broader community, but it certainly happened.

[i] Elizabeth Wiedemann, World of Its Own: Inverell’s Early Years 1827-1920, Inverell Shire Council and Devill Publicity, Inverell, 1981, p43. Material on the Chinese experience at Inverell is drawn especially from this book.

[ii] Unless otherwise cited, background material on the Chinese is drawn from the Harvest of Endurance Scroll, Australian National Museum. Accessed 23 April 2009.

[iii] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009, footnote 9, p19

[iv] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009

[v] European costs to be inserted.

[vi] Jean Harslett and Mervyn Royle, They Came to a Plateau (The Stanthorpe Saga), second edition, International Colour Productions, Stanthorpe 1973 p20.

[vii] E. W. Dunlop, 'Marsh, Matthew Henry (1810 - 1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974, p. 213

[viii] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009, footnote 9, p19

[ix] E. W. Dunlop, 'Marsh, Matthew Henry (1810 - 1881)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, Melbourne University Press, 1974, p. 213. I wonder whether this is in fact the same group as the 1850 one.

[x] R. v. Betts, Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899, Division of Law Macquarie University, accessed on-line 6 May 2009.

[xi] Quoted Jean Harslett and Mervyn Royle, op cit, p20

[xii] Wiedemann, op cit, p43, quoting the Wellingrove Bench Book 22.3.1854, AO4/5555.

[xiii] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009, footnote 170

[xiv] Maxine Darnell, NSW 1828-1856, accessed on-line May 2009, footnote 45, p21

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

New England's Chinese - an interesting table

Between 1847 and 1853, nearly 3,000 indentured Chinese labourers were imported into the colony of NSW. Maxine Darnell has prepared an interesting table that provides glimpses of some of these workers.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

SS Fitzroy

I have just completed a post, North Coast Memories - SS Fitzroy, looking at the life and death of this ship. I have added references so that I can use the material again.

In preparing the story I looked at a number of photos from the State Library of NSW. Their tight copyright conditions make it difficult to use the photos properly to really draw out history. I felt justified in using the Fitzroy photo because I was correcting an historical inaccuracy in their description of the photo.